Air pollution threatens human health, health systems and economic activity. It is the second leading risk factor for death across Africa, contributing to an estimated 1.1 million deaths on the continent in 2019.
The continent has an urban population of over 500 million. This is projected to be over 700 million by 2026. In the face of such enormous numbers and a seemingly insurmountable problem, it can feel difficult for ordinary people to protect themselves or make a difference.
But, as we found in our research, many strategies are possible. We have drawn up a list of suggestions, divided into three categories: practical tips to reduce exposure, how to keep your community air quality cleaner and, lastly, what steps policy makers can take.
Our research highlights the fact that air pollution is a multifaceted and complex issue to tackle. Intervening can span different ministries such as transport, environment and health. Acting on one sector can affect a different sector, so it is important to clarify the role and responsibilities of all actors.
To formulate solutions and strategies that are acceptable and feasible to the general public, multiple stakeholders must collaborate: policy makers, civil society, communities, and academia.
Our findings show that much time can be saved by not ‘re-inventing the wheel’ and learning from implementers on the opportunities and barriers to tackle air pollution in cities.
We found that most strategies (83%) being used to tackle air pollution focused on household air pollution compared to outdoor air pollution (17%). This is even though outdoor air pollution is increasing due to urbanisation.
Overall, the strategies focus on technology (75%), more than on policy (20%), and even less on behavioural change (5%).
Our findings point to the need for more policy interventions. There are some obvious gaps in present approaches. These include policies that address changes in peoples’ behaviour. Another example is addressing major sources of pollution such as vehicles and two and three wheel motorcycles. Only 6% of all strategies applied in African contexts focus on decreasing air pollution through transport yet the continent is faced with a large increase of “used” (second-hand or pre-owned) vehicles.
Based on our insights, we’ve come up with the following list of practical tips.
These four suggestions will go some way to protecting your health:
You can take some steps that will have a wider impact.
You can also play an active role in getting policy makers to take concrete steps.
By considering these tips and strategies, communities and leaders have the opportunity to beat air pollution, the invisible pandemic beneath our noses.
The air we breathe represents the living space and the quality of life we all need for a healthier and more sustainable planet, including for generations unborn.
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